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An evening at the Metropolitan In this account by the Apulian-American poet, who lives in Manhattan, the delightful experience of a member of the audience in the theater considered the world’s temple to Opera by Joseph Tusiani
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New York. Lincoln Center. Metropolitan Opera House. Photo by Santi Visalli


      The Lincoln Center is a complex of buildings dedicated to art and music. And it is more: a magic isle almost washed by the waves of the Hudson, where you can hear the snow-white jets of a fountain in the middle of a Mediaeval-looking square, as if to prepare you for the solemn music awaiting you in the famous, mythical Metropolitan.

      Every time you go there, you have the impression that you are there for your first experience as a spectator and lover of lyric music. What you saw the previous week, or even in previous years, seems new and never seen before. You can’t help but gaze in amazement at the two giant murals by Marc Chagall, on the right and left of the theater entrance, one representing The Triumph of Music, the other The Sources of Music, but both able to loan you the wings of those ethereal nymphs whirling above your head. You would immediately think of our Campidoglio (the Capitol) if, instead of the fountain there stood the statue of Marco Aurelio on horseback. And straightaway, once here you forget about the very different magic of Times Square, the district of theater and musicals you visited yesterday. Here the lights are not flashy, they don’t feel like they’re falling on top of you, they’re delicate but strong, peaceful yet vivid, familiar though spectacular. Here everything is new and almost mystical, because, unlike Times Square, where cabaret reigns, here the doors of the “Temple of Art” open to you.

      I went back just last night, for the tenth time during the current opera season, for a performance of Donizetti’s Lucia of Lammermoor. I must say, by the way, that in these my later years, I dedicate more time to music than to literature, perhaps because the word does not exist without sound whereas sound can exist without words.

      As always, I sat in my season-ticket prescribed seat, in the stalls, turning round often, without drawing attention to myself, to look at the six circular levels that make up the theatre and not considering at all the seven underground levels that house the store-room for the props and costumes and thousands of accessories that are needed for every opera. And, as usual, it was sold out: 3,800 comfortable red seats all taken. My mouth began to water and I was touched by a hint of nostalgia as I thought of the fabulous meal that, two hours before the performance, by making a reservation, you can enjoy at the Grand Tier, behind the Chagall murals, on the same level as the first tier of boxes. A fabulous meal because the most delicious rarities of Italian cuisine are served in an atmosphere of indescribable elegance and – dulcis in fundo – you order the final dessert before leaving the table and find it sitting invitingly there when you come back for it during the first interval. Every detail has a fairy-tale feel about it, including of course the cost of finally fulfilling your dream.

      Since this evening it is an Italian opera, I needn’t press that little button that switches on the “translator” on the back of the seat in front of me, a strip a couple of centimetres’ long which, without disturbing your neighbour, translates in luminous letters the phrases sung onstage.

      And here we are, on the dot of 8 p.m., the twelve fine crystal chandeliers that illuminate the stalls , all together, as if by magic, begin to move upwards until they are completely dimmed and vanish into the darkened vault. The orchestra conductor is by now on the rostrum; now only the tiny lights over the scores on the music stands can be seen, and the bewitching music of Donizetti strikes up.

      As I’ve seen this opera , taken from Walter Scott’s novel The Bride of Lammermoor several times, I allow my attention to stray while listening to the famous arias of “Verranno a te sull’aure/I miei sospiri ardenti, “Tombe degli avi miei” and “Tu che a Dio spiegasti l’ali”. The San Carlo in Naples comes to mind, where, in 1835 they performed the opera for the fist time and then I think of the Teatro alla Scala, of the Fenice, of the Massimo, of the Petruzzelli and other Italian opera houses , all soaked in a history which this new American Metropolitan cannot vaunt; neither could the old one, founded by some New York magnates in 1880 before opening in 1883 with Gounod’s Faust, sung in Italian.

      And yet this Metropolitan is nowadays the most renowned opera house in the world, so much so that a singer who has not trodden these boards cannot be said to be complete. And I thought of unlucky Donizetti, who fully deserves to be compared with Giuseppe Verdi for the richness of his melodies, variety of musical themes, and fecundity of inspiration. I wondered how much Verdi would have lost if his work had not been so fortunately involved with the history of the Italian Risorgimento, and how much, on the other hand, Donizetti would have gained if his vast production had not been beaten by syphilis, madness and premature death.

      Donizetti’s opera now over, I go out into the still-luminous night of the Lincoln Center. The winter’s intense cold grips me in its coils but the euphoria of the music still pervades my spirit and a makes the threatening icy gusts almost a pleasure.

      I find myself among the crowds of people who’ve come down the wide ramp of the foyer, and who are now flowing out into the square where the fountain is almost yielding to the night with its lessening jets. I hear English spoken here and there; there are so many languages being spoken by the hundreds of people attempting a tricky feat: attracting the attention of an unoccupied taxi amidst the thousands of taxis already taken by the people coming out of other theatres and innumerable Manhattan restaurants.

      At midnight, this New York county lives its most frenetic hour: it is as if the tourists from every continent have arranged to meet here, having naturally booked their entertainment and feasts months earlier (and we mustn’t forget the tourists from the other forty-nine states of the U.S.).

      An eddying of sounds, a jumble of styles and fashions, a world within a world. You feel alive and know that you must, absolutely must, go back to the Lincoln Center.